Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Sarah Champlin
The Illinois Nightjars—Closer to home in Illinois
Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.
Meister Eckhart

The Illinois Nightjars—Closer to home in Illinois

As a novice birder, nothing excites me like the prospect of spotting a new bird. My life can be clearly divided into two eras: B.B. (Before Birding) and A.B. (After Birding). Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, my world turned Technicolor when I discovered birding. I had no idea that before this I had been living in black-and-white.

I realize this must sound pretty dramatic coming from someone who still mixes up the Phoebe with the Wood-Pewee (amateur hour, I know). Still even with my decidedly beginner skill set, birding changed the whole way I observe the world. When I walked in the forest preserve in the B.B. times, I looked into nature and saw blurs of green and brown plant life, heard ambient nature sounds. Now my vision is in sharper focus, my ears attuned to discern each separate sound. Nature is not just “nature” anymore, but layer upon layer of distinct beings with their own characteristics and behaviors. A bird call no longer sounds like background noise, but rather the unique sound of a friend who has a name and a story. Even if I have no idea what bird the sound belongs to, it’s exhilarating to listen nonetheless.

So far in my bird adventures I have yet to encounter a nightjar. This category of bird includes the nighthawk and the Chuck-will’s-widow. They are difficult to spot, not only due to their declining numbers in Illinois but also because they are most active at dusk, when their brown-and-white camouflage coloring becomes even harder to see in the fading light. Because they are nearly nocturnal, normal bird monitoring programs are not able to track the population numbers of these birds. In order to attend to the health of these evening birds, Illinois established MOON (Monitoring of Owls and Nightjars) as a volunteer-based program.[1] With the additional data tracked by volunteers, conservationists will learn more about how to preserve the wellness of nightjars in Illinois. 

MOON like birding in general, allows those who participate to practice deep attention. (You can learn more about volunteering with them here.) Theologian Simone Weil writes, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”[2] Attention is itself a kind of devotion, a complete giving of oneself. Paying attention to the birds is one way to honor God. Through our dedication to the details of their particular colorings, calls, and customs, we remember what a miracle it is to be part of the world that God so loves.

O Lord, Loving Creator of the universe,
We thank you for the gift of existing at the same time,
As the nighthawk, the whip-poor-will, and the chuck-will’s-widow.
Guide our attention that we might learn to focus,
On that which is good, which is love, which is You.
Amen.


[1] https://moon.inhs.illinois.edu/

[2] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace.

March 26, 2024

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